Tuesday November 1st, 2011

Here are the five things that worry me about the Chargers in the wake of their second straight late collapse, the 23-20 overtime loss at Kansas City on Monday night:

1. It continues to always be something with this team. Too often, when the games are big (and you have to consider Monday's game a big one -- in the division, with a loss making it a three-way tie instead of distancing the Chargers from the pack), something weird happens. And it's never good weird. Either Nate Kaeding is missing three makeable field goals, or clock management is at a third-grade level, or, this year, end-of-game execution is poor. Too many of the same mistakes, made way too often. That's the sign of a team that'll never win a championship.

2. Philip Rivers' mistakes and mobility. He leads all NFL players with 14 turnovers. One of his picks was a tip job Monday night, and those are simply fluky. But he had an easy pick in the first half dropped by Brandon Flowers, which would have given him three on the night, and his fumble that lost the game in the final minute was absolutely inexcusable. It's a Miracle-of-the-Meadowlands turnover, a clear game-loser. His only job on that play is to collect the snap and make sure no one fumbles, and give Nick Novak a 32-yard chippy to win the game. And he fumbled. Regarding the mobility: Lots of quarterbacks make plays on the move. That's the weakness of Rivers' game. I thought the Chiefs exploited that with flush-rushes Monday night.

3. Left tackle Marcus McNeill. Are you kidding me? Six penalties for a veteran left tackle? Three false starts? McNeill played like he'd never played in a loud stadium before. His six infractions left the Chargers trying to convert on first-and-15, first-and-15, second-and-23, first-and-15, second-and-12 and second-and-20. All night, McNeill dug holes for his quarterback to have to get out of.

4. Giving the Chiefs life. San Diego could have buried the Chiefs Monday night. A season-series sweep (after a Week 3 win in San Diego) would have put the Chiefs down by 2.5 games, in effect, in the West with 10 to play -- including the Patriots, Jets and Bears on the road, and Green Bay at home. Instead of building the 2.5-game lead, the Chargers and Chiefs are in a dead tie with 10 to play.

5. Norv Turner's ability to pull the Chargers out of the rut. That'll be tested now, because the world will come down on the Chargers. The Chargers have played the first half of the season much like Turner's career coaching record: 107-112-1. Green Bay comes to town this week, followed by Oakland on a short week. Turner's going to have to coach memory erasure this week. Can he do it? We'll see.


I had scores of you write in to ask about the weird Troy Polamalu play at the end of the Patriots-Steelers game. With 19 seconds to play, Tom Brady was sacked at the Patriots' 19-yard line, the ball came loose, players rushed to the ball, and in the scrum, Polamalu came in and punched it toward the goal line. The ball flew out of the pile and skittered into the end zone, and it went out of the end zone for a safety. The replay assistant challenged whether the loose ball was recovered, but, as is the case with penalties like pass interference, replay cannot be used to determine whether the ball was batted. One of your emails about it:

ALL OF CANADA WANTS TO KNOW TOO. "Hey Peter, just want you to know that you have legions of fans who look forward to your column even north of the border. My question: When Troy Polamalu flew into the play and punched Tom Brady's fumble into the end zone (it was eventually knocked out the back of the end zone for a game clinching safety) did Pittsburgh's All-Pro safety make a heads-up defensive play or break the rules? Are defensive players allowed to intentionally advance the ball by kicking or punching it?'' -- Calvin Hancock, of Winnipeg

Thanks, Calvin. According to Rule 12, Section 1, Article 8, page 71 of the NFL Rules Digest, the play clearly was an illegal bat and should have resulted in New England keeping the ball, getting one last shot at their own 32-yard line with eight seconds to play, trailing 23-17. The rule states: A player may not bat or punch:

(a) a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent's goal line;

(b) a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone;

(c) a backward pass in flight forward by an offensive player.

The officiating crew -- led by referee Mike Carey, who, stationed in the offensive backfield, may have been closest to the play -- just missed it. The crew blew the call. The Patriots should have had one last chance. How would they have played it? My guess is Brady would have thrown a quick 12-yard out to someone along one of the sidelines, hoping to put the Patriots in position to throw a Hail Mary into the Steeler end zone. But that didn't happen.

Now onto more of your email:

ON THE BILLS IN TORONTO. "You mentioned that you watched the Bill-Redskins game. Just curious as to your thoughts about the Toronto series. It just entered its fourth year, with next year the final year of the agreement. As a life-long Bills fan it pains me to see our games go north of the border -- though I do understand the economics of it. Still, it's clear that the series is not without its problems -- lack of sellouts, loss of home-field advantage, etc. Also, marketing seems to have shifted from building a Bills base in Ontario to getting Bills fans to venture to Canada to watch their team. Looking ahead, where is all this going to go? Is the league office happy with the arrangement?'' -- John, of Buffalo

When I've talked to owners and league officials about the Buffalo-Toronto thing, I sense there are three ways of thinking. One: When the team is owned by someone other than Ralph Wilson, the bottom-line people hope the team is moved to where it'll make more money. Two: Traditionalists hope the team can always have a footing in Buffalo, perhaps in the 5-3 split between Buffalo games and Toronto games. Three: Some owners would love to see an NFL franchise in Toronto. So my real sense is that the league has a lot of mixed feelings about what to do in Buffalo long-term.

PLAYERS USE EVERYTHING. "One of the SI writers wrote an article on the most disappointing players so far this season. Chris Long of the Rams was given a dishonorable mention. After seeing his dominating play against the Saints I must ask this: To what extent do you think bad write-ups about individual players affect the next game performance?'' -- Philip Slater, of San Rafael, Cal.

Chris Long is a prideful guy; I know him to be so. But like every player, he hears criticism that he wasn't worth second-pick-in-the-draft money, and I am sure it fuels him. Some players I've known use it daily, hourly (Joe Morris of the Giants in the '80s -- I'm convinced -- would never have been the back he was without using the negative stuff said about him every day) and some have to be reminded about it by coaches or teammates. But it's fuel. For sure.

I'LL GIVE YOU AN AFC AND NFC CANDIDATE. "Given the Packers squeaking to get into the playoffs last season and then winning the Super Bowl. And the same with the St. Louis Cardinals and the World Series, which NFL team has the best shot to be the SB squeaker this season?'' -- Michael, of Los Angeles

Detroit in the NFC (will be no higher than fifth seed) and Baltimore in the AFC. The Ravens can play great playoff defense and may well end up the sixth seed.

YES. "If the Colts get to pick Luck, would they consider trading Peyton Manning? After this year's train wreck of a season, it's hard to imagine the Colts bouncing back to Super Bowl contender form next year, even with Manning, so why not begin the rebuilding? The Colts could get some decent draft picks from a team that wants to win the Super Bowl and is an elite quarterback away (like the Jets or Ravens if Flacco and Sanchez continue to play OK but not great football), Manning has to be feeling an urgency to win now given his age, and the Colts could use the picks to rebuild around Luck. Seems like it would make sense in a lot of ways.'' -- Jim Murphy, of Montpelier, Vt.

I think Bill and Chris Polian, in concert with Manning, would consider it, yes.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. "First of all, your MMQB has been a staple of my Monday "eat at my desk" routine for years. So thank you very much. Second, with as much respect as you have within the football community, I was curious as to your ability to be critical of the current NFL experience? As a lifelong football fan, I get more and more disappointed in the game (yes, I realize its popularity is at a zenith so perhaps I am an anomaly).

The quality of play is dreadful, the majority of quarterbacks are abysmal, few offensive lines can run block and/or protect the quarterback, fantasy football and the Red Zone channel have viewers more interested in stats and individual plays rather than the full game, instant replay adds more delays to an already overstuffed slate of commercials, the TV screen is overrun with scores, stats and numerous other distractions and defense and running the ball is no longer showcased, appreciated, or necessary in "today's NFL."

Once again, I realize my voice is drowned out by the cacophony of crazed fan,s but mark my words -- the product is not what it once was and needs to get back in some ways to what made it great. The sports/entertainment line is being blurred, and not for the best.'' -- Matt Waters, of Cincinnati

I hear a lot of this, particularly about rooting for the fantasy team instead of the real team. I have a very good friend in New Jersey who has eight season tickets to Giants games and hasn't been to one in three years. Two reasons: He loves the man cave experience he has in his beautiful home, and he hates the in-stadium experience with his kids at the games, with drunkards ruining his day.

On the field, I think the game is very good. I would disagree about the quality of line play; even though offensive lines are getting quarterbacks hit, those things are cyclical, I believe. If teams want to protect their quarterbacks, they'll leave more tight ends and extra blockers in. But thanks for writing. I do see some of the same things you do.

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